The ducal Domaine des Etangs in the rolling Cognac countryside is a fabulous fairy-tale fiefdom of a hotel, with turrets, towers, meadows and mills. There’s a library with shelves stocked by esteemed Mayfair booksellers Heywood Hill, a super spa, seven lakes and a private collection of art to complement the estate’s gallery, spread across the sprawling 2,500 acres. The 11th-century chateau has been restored with only local rock, and the longère – a typical French farm building – now houses a Michelin-starred restaurant.
Get this when you book through us:
A 60-minute spa treatment each, one pond angling session or guided garden tour, a welcome bottle of wine, early check-in and late check-out
Noon, but flexible for 50 per cent of the room rate. Earliest check-in, 4pm, also flexible for a fee.
Double rooms from £314.03 (€350), including tax at 10 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional local city tax of €1.50 per person per night on check-out.
Rates usually include breakfast.
Drinkers, rejoice: not only are you in Cognac country (Hennessy, Martell and Remy Martin are made in the double-distilled brandy’s namesake town on the Charente river; the birthplace of Courvoisier is down the road in Jarnac), you’re also just a 90-minute drive from Bordeaux’s bountiful vineyards.
At the hotel
Free WiFi throughout, tennis court, bicycles, (small) boats and wellies to borrow, gym, library. In rooms: TV, minibar, free bottled water, tea and coffee kit, and Sothys bath products.
Our favourite rooms
Everything sounds better in French, especially the domaine’s room names (Serpentaire, Lune, Soleil…). We loved Vénus, for its giant bathroom, high ceiling and top-drawer views, and Saturne for its fireplace and tower-showcasing glass roof. Families and groups of friends should book out the five-bedroom, pond-facing Dragon, the three-bedroom Serpentaire by the meadows, or the two-bedroom Cassiopée or Centaure.
There are two huge, heated pools: one out in the grounds (open from May to October) and another indoors by the Roman baths.
The Moulin des Etangs spa makes use of its spectacular setting: heritage equipment from the mill is used to produce nut oil, garden plants are employed both dried and fresh in compresses, ground wheat makes its way into the body scrubs and Charentes salt peps up the footbaths.
The French, traditionally, are perma-chic – this may be the countryside, but don’t chance it: go with Le Chameau all the way.
The gardens are easily navigable for wheelchair users and one room (Mercure) has been adapted.
All ages are welcome, but the estate has a few hazards for toddlers, not least the lakes. A baby cot (free) or extra bed (free for under-12s, €25 otherwise) can be added to all but Prestige rooms, but the multiple-bedroom rooms are best for families.
Extra beds and cots can be added to most rooms, but the multiple-bedroom rooms are best for families.
The Domaine des Enfants programme keeps little Smiths busy with calligraphy classes, baking, horse-riding, angling, farm tours and more.
On site, you’ll find a playground with a trampoline and zipline, giant chess, ping-pong, tennis, bicycles. There’s also a play area in the attic with cards, fancy dress, snooker and table football.
Both pools are family friendly.
Children are welcome in both restaurants; there are special menus, highchairs and colouring-in books available on request. Over-12s are allowed in the bar.
If winter is coming, nab the spot by the fireplace. Things don’t get much cosier.
King and queen of the castle.
Breakfast – a feast of breads, pastries and local cheese and charcuterie – is served in Monade, a wood-panelled room on the ground floor of the castle, which also serves lunch and dinner on Mondays and Tuesdays. The second restaurant, Dyades, helmed by the talented Geraud Dupuis, is open for lunch and dinner, Wednesday to Sunday; seasonal products and vegetables from the garden are given a Michelin-level makeover. Don’t miss a taste of the famous Limousin beef, or the foie gras with butternut squash.
There’s a cocktail bar in Dyades, offering Cognac-based muddles, of course, but also various other wines and beers.
Breakfast is served from 8am until noon; lunch hours are noon to 1.30pm; dinner is between 7pm and 9.30pm. The bar at Dyades is open from 10am until 11pm.
Meals can be served in-room with a few hours’ notice, and the hotel can pack a picnic basket for you to disappear with into the domaine.
Domaine des Etangs spans several acres of bucolic Cognac countryside in the rolling, rural heart of south-west France.
The nearest major airport is down in Bordeaux, a good two and a half hours away by car; hotel transfers cost €450 each way. There’s also an airport a 50-minute drive away in Limoges; transfers from here are €150.
There’s a TGV station 45 kilometres away in Angoulême, with fast services chugging through from Paris and Bordeaux (www.sncf.com). The hotel can arrange car transfers for €150 each way.
Angoulême is the nearest big town – the drive should take 45 minutes. There’s free parking at the hotel.
Private planes can land at Angoulême-Brie-Champniers airport; choppers can descend on the domaine with prior permission.
Worth getting out of bed for
The 11th-century chateau has a whopping 2,500 acres to explore, which span a Heywood Hill-curated library, a working mill and an extensive art collection, as well as two pools, a spa, a lakeside tennis court, a vegetable patch, a forest, meadows, Roman baths and landscaped gardens. Resident wildlife includes a herd of Limousin cattle, horses to ride and fish to, er, fish. Head to the Royal Limoges porcelain factory, which has been crafting exquisitely decorated teacups and saucers since 1797. While you’re in town, it’s probably polite to check out the Cathédrale St-Etienne de Limoges, since it took six whole centuries to complete. Budding archaeologists will love leaping around the preserved Roman thermal baths at Cassinomagus. As if there wasn’t enough nature on your domain, the hotel can arrange bird-watching along the marshlands and canals of the Marais Poitevin park. This part of France has no shortage of turrets and towers – continue living in a fairy tale at Château de Rochechouart, the oldest part of which dates from the 13th century.
You may have seen them grazing, but at Chez Steph in La Rochefoucauld it’s time to tuck in to some of the famous Limousin cattle. In Montbron, head to the windmill-facing Le Moulin de la Tardoire for ambitious, super-French fine-dining. If you’re up for a drive, try La Grange aux Oies, 20 kilometres away at Château de Nieuil – you’ll be rewarded with yet more turrets and some sophisticated French fare.
Knowing that we had a long stretch ahead of us where we would need to frenetically try to combine parenting, work and endless travel, we decided to organise a weekend of proper rest and relaxation à deux – with lots of yummy food, of course. It was a little early in the season for a seaside option, so heading out on a countryside escapade made sense. Luxury hotel Domaine des Etangs, in Charente (a department in southwest France, probably best known for its cheeses, china, cattle and Cognac) appeared to be located in an idyllic rural setting in the middle of nowhere; therefore, it fit the bill.
Before booking, we checked that it wasn’t too complicated to get to, and we were delighted to find out that there was a direct flight – albeit from Stansted – to Limoges, which is only a 45-minute drive from the Domaine. And, we opted to rent a car – the ability for us to explore surrounding areas and (most importantly) try out local eateries, is a priority.
When the much-needed weekend arrived in early May, Justine and I set off for Limoges on a Friday PM. We landed, picked up our car and headed for the Domaine, while admiring the lovely country surroundings. Once we arrived – and throughout the entire weekend – we were enthralled with what we saw: Domaine des Etangs is an astonishingly beautiful and delightfully relaxing place. Some travel websites might wax overly lyrical about a location, but in this case, you can only fully appreciate the place and take it all in once you’re there.
The property itself is a looker: an 11th-century château with a beautiful formal garden, beyond which lie around 4,000 acres of lakes, forest, rolling hills and prairies populated by caramel-hued Charente cows. There are various other dwellings and cottages, too, all view-blessed, and a tucked-away working dairy farm we later discovered on a long walk.
What struck us as soon as we walked into the main house and were escorted to our room, as we passed through various salons, was that this property had recently been restored with incredible taste, attention to detail and to a high specification. It was clear that no expense had been spared and this must have been a true labour of love. We were so impressed that we enquired about the owners and were informed that this property had belonged to an affluent French family for two generations; one of the daughters had taken it over and had turned it into a boutique hotel. Let it be known: we thank and applaud her for doing such an incredible job.
We had opted to stay in one of the just-seven rooms in the château itself, one dubbed Saturn, which was located in one of the towers on the second floor. It was spectacular: not only was it super spacious and had a fabulous bathroom (although we expected nothing less), but it also had luxurious sheets, fun artwork, great underfloor heating and the bedroom itself had an incredible domed wooden ceiling which you could stargaze through.
And, well, the food is definitely worth mentioning. Being a chef, my expectations are quite high and the Domaine’s dining met them. There’s one restaurant located onsite, just off from the main house, which certainly deserves its Michelin star. We were served lovely, interesting dishes, made using local and seasonal produce, most of which comes straight from the well-stocked vegetable garden. We had lunch and dinner there, and on both occasions were very content with the food, wine and service. Breakfast, which is very important for my wife and I, was a treat. It’s served in a small dining room in the main house; and guests can help themselves in the adjacent kitchen, where a chef makes on-demand cooked breakfasts, and there are viennoiseries, fruit, juices and more. Instead of feeling like you’re in a hotel, it feels more like being in someone’s home.
In terms of things to do, there are both indoor and outdoor pools, a gym in a greenhouse, tennis court literally floating on one of the lakes (the best setting I’ve ever played in), amazing country walks or bicycle rides, horse rides, rowing on the lakes, and a fabulous playroom and playground for children. We chose a country walk, so began following the signs indicating paths to take – just one word of wisdom, make sure you know and are prepared for what you’re getting into and are wearing the right footwear, as our walk lasted more than three hours. It was fully worth it though, as you simply cannot tire of the idyllic bucolic setting.
We also took advantage of the spa, which was located in a beautifully restored mill adjacent to the main house, which, back in the day, had been used to grind corn. We highly recommend the couples’ treatment room – I don’t like to play coy, but you’ll understand when you see it…
We could easily have stayed on the hotel premises for the entire weekend, but since there’s only one restaurant onsite and the other (non-room service) eating option is a picnic. Given the rain, we asked the very helpful ladies on reception to recommend a renowned yet relaxed ‘local’. And so off we went to Chez Steph in picturesque commune La Rochefoucauld, which was a 15/20-minute drive away and had a hearty regional salad (with foie gras and gizzards) and a tasty steak frites. We didn’t have enough time, but for your drinking pleasure, Cognac is also close by.
The only disappointment was the weather; we were hoping for some spring sun, whereas it rained pretty much all weekend. But, given all there is to do, both indoors and outdoors, and the Domaine’s fabulous facilities, this wasn’t an issue. On the contrary, it made the weekend even more cosy and relaxing, and it made us want to come back in the summer, so we could fully enjoy the pool, tennis, grounds, outdoor eating… It’s a very special place, which I could not recommend highly enough, and it’s also a great place to celebrate a momentous occasion, en famille, or in a larger group, perhaps. But, like us, you may want to keep the guest list to just two.